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David Hertzberg: The Wake World

Maeve Hoglund, Samantha Hankey, George Sommerville, et al (Tzadik)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

David Hertzberg
The Wake World
Maeve Hoglund, Samantha Hankey, George Sommerville, John David Miles, Maggie Finnegan, Veronica Chapman Smith, Joanna Nelson Gates, Jesica Beebe, Andrew Bogard (voices); Bryn Coveney (horn), Steven Franklin (trumpet), Eunice Kim (violin), Edward Babcock, Bradley Loudis (percussion), Euntaek Kim (fender rhodes), Grant Loehnig (piano)/Elizabeth Braden
Tzadik TZ-4030-2   86.33 mins (2 discs)

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David Hertzberg’s The Wake World takes the fairytale written by occultist Aleister Crowley for his daughter into a realm as narcotically debauched as the sex magic he’s said to have indulged in – and as darkly gothic, as Lola undergoes a series of otherworldly tests before she can unite with her Fairy Prince.

Like a carnal Bluebeard’s Castle with a happy outcome, Hertzberg’s libretto drips with extreme, symbolist imagery while his score conjures echoes of Debussy, Mahler and Wagner – and especially Schreker – in its lush, opulent chromaticism. Yet his forces are worlds away from Schreker’s vast Die Gezeichneten. An ensemble of just seven players supports two principals and ten further characters – sung here by soloists who emerge from the Philadelphia Opera Chorus – to tempt, beguile, aid and torment Lola (sung by soprano Maeve Höglund) as she traverses depraved scenes in the palace of the Fairy Prince (mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey).

Human sacrifice, cannibalism, vampiric seduction: all are described in orgiastic waves as Lola follows her trail of lust and animal instinct in pursuit of inner truth. It’s a journey that risks overblowing in the extended ecstasy of the final scene – and it raises questions about torture porn, and the manipulation of women in thrall to a sexual overlord. But Hertzberg’s score is astonishingly imaginative and well-written, and the musicians on this recording prove fine advocates under their conductor Elizabeth Braden.

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Steph Power